8 Tips for Helping a Friend or Relative with an Anxiety Disorder
When someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, they need the support and encouragement of friends and family just as much as they need medical treatment and therapy. Unfortunately, we often don't know what to do or what to say. The following are tips for helping a friend or relative who has an anxiety disorder:
Learn About Anxiety
Read and learn as much as you can about anxiety disorders, especially the specific type of anxiety your friend is suffering from. Learn about the symptoms and the treatment. If you aren't sure where to find reliable information, ask your friend, he or she will probably know several accurate websites or books for you to read through. If you understand what to look for and what to expect you can better offer support, understanding and encouragement. This site provides information on the many different types of anxiety disorders: Types of Anxiety, which is a good place to start.
Offer Support without Interfering
While "being supportive" sounds easy, it is not. There is a fine balance between being supportive and interfering with treatment. The best way is to ask your friend what you can do to help. Use their suggestions as your guideline. Don't try to solve your friend's problems, having anxiety doesn't mean they can't think through problems, instead, be around to help them relax so they can focus on the problem or be willing to listen so they can talk through their problems and find a solution. See: Top Ten Things Not to Say to Someone Who Suffers from Anxiety
Provide Fun and Enjoyment
Those with anxiety disorders spend a lot of time worrying and afraid about many different things. They do need to spend time relaxing and having fun. While you want to let your friend know you are there to listen, you also don't want to spend every minute talking about anxiety. Find ways to help your friend relax.
Be Careful to Avoid Enabling
It can be easy to fall into a pattern of solving problems or doing things to help out. But there is a fine line between helping and enabling. You may find there are times when your friend needs your help or needs you to run an errand or help them with a task because their anxiety is preventing them from getting something done. However, this should be done only when absolutely necessary to make sure your friend does not become dependent on your help. When this happens, both friends suffer, your friend by not taking the initiative to work out problems and manage anxiety symptoms and you, because taking on another person's problems can be emotionally exhausting.
Anxiety disorders can sometimes takes years to overcome or manage. Your friend needs medical help to learn new ways of coping with anxiety and may choose to take medication. Even so, this doesn't happen overnight. Encourage your friend to remain in treatment and continue to offer your help, but don't set time limits or become discouraged because you don't see progress as quickly as you think it should happen.
Encourage Medical Treatment
If you see anxiety interfering with your friend's life, encourage him or her to seek help from a mental health professional. If your friend is already receiving treatment, encourage him to continue with treatment, reminding him to keep appointments, take medication and follow instructions. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. If your friend is not utilizing this type of treatment, offer to help in finding a professional. Treatment may also involve practicing relaxation techniques or taking steps outside of therapy. You may offer to come to sessions with your friend and talk with the therapist on ways you can help in between sessions.
Don't Be Judgmental
Each person with anxiety is different, each will react to treatment on their own timetable. Don't express your opinion that your friend should be further along in treatment or have made more progress. Don't judge their feelings of anxiety as not important or minimize their struggles. Listening, without judging, is best.
Take Care of Yourself
You may get so involved in trying to care for your friend that you ignore your own needs. Be sure to take care of yourself, including finding a support network to help you talk about your emotional reaction to your friend. Allow yourself to take a break if you need one. An emotionally exhausted friend usually isn't much help. Be sure to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise every day to help relieve the stress of helping your friend learn to manage anxiety.